The question of how much English should be used in international research universities is one with which I am extremely familiar. I would even say I am deeply puzzled by this trend. I am not certain what the correct answer should be.
As academics we have pretty good judgment about the quality of institutions that cannot simply be measured by counting the number of papers published or patents received. Outsiders who swoop in to count beans and make up lists based on statistics have little sense of what excellence is.
That doesn't mean that the top fifteen institutions in the ranking somehow don't belong there at all. But what is the difference between number two and number eight in any meaningful sense? As an administrator who worked to build a complex university, I find the assumption slightly offensive. We need to be committed to excellence, not to lists.
There seems also to be a tremendous risk to indigenous cultures if we insist that all scholarship be conducted in English. We are, for example, dealing with ancient and very highly-developed cultures in Korea, Japan, China and the Middle East. What is the impact on cultural and scholarly vitality forcing everyone to do their work in English? I do not have an answer, but this issue has been very much on my mind.
Harvard introduced the now famous ad hoc system whereby a group of experts in the field of the faculty member to be promoted are consulted concerning the stature of that scholar. This move made the opinion within the field, rather than the clubby relationship within the department, the determining factor in the promotion of professors.
I focus on faculty, as opposed to facilities, budgets, endowments or students. I do so because I believe, based on many decades of work as a teacher, a scholar and an administrator, that the quality of the faculty determines the quality of the university. Everything else flows from the quality of the faculty. If the faculty are good, you will attract good students and you will have alumni who will raise funds for you.
Equally important for the promotion of excellence in the university is an emphasis on shared governance. The faculty needs to be involved directly in the process of running the university and in the setting of priorities.
Shared governance is often the critical element that is missing in Asian universities, no matter how talented the faculty may be. Either it is ministries of education that are trying to run things, or in private institutions - those who control the funds. Neither group knows much about teaching and research.
The president [of American research institute] can act as the CEO and make a firm decision about the long-term development of the institution, but he or she does so in constant consultation with the faculty. It may not always work this way, but the greatest advances occur when governance is truly shared.
To become a world-class university takes a lot of time. There are simply no shortcuts. People tend to assume, and I have encountered this sort of thinking all over the world, that if they just sink enough money into a university, it will emerge in a few years as a first-class institution. But such rapid growth never happens. It takes time; it takes generations.